Lazy, seedy, devious and stay-at-home

Border Thaw “Climate change has led to the introduction of one of the world’s first ‘mobile borders,’ between Switzerland and Italy. The border was originally defined according to where the…

November 15, 2009 | | Back Issues | Countryside Digest | Departments | Environment | Winter 2009

Border Thaw

“Climate change has led to the introduction of one of the world’s first ‘mobile borders,’ between Switzerland and Italy. The border was originally defined according to where the watershed line was on a series of glaciers, some just below the world-famous Matterhorn. But rapidly melting border glaciers have changed the location of the watershed.

“The two countries have agreed to redraw the 750 km border, then leave its maintenance to a panel of experts to revise as the glaciers continue to melt.

“Between 2007 and 2008 most alpine glaciers retreated by at least 25 m, with the Gornier glacier on the Swiss-Italian border retreating by nearly 300 m. The glaciers are expected to be all but gone within the next 30-40 years.” From Ecologist, June/09.

Homeland Security

John Kenneth Galbraith “…held ‘one-man bilateral’ hearings on behalf of both Prime Minister Lester Pearson and President John F. Kennedy in negotiating a new aviation treaty to accommodate the arrival of jet aircraft and make it unnecessary for flights between Toronto and New York to stop in Buffalo.” CCPA Monitor, Sept/09.

Post-It Notes

“They began in 1980, when a St. Paul, Minnesota choir member’s hymnal bookmarks kept falling to the floor. Chorister Arthur Fry, an engineer at chemical company 3M, joined forces with 3M scientist Spencer Silver, inventor of a peculiar adhesive that stuck poorly to surfaces. The glue provided perfect temporary fixes for paper scraps such as hymnal bookmarks.” From Worldwatch, Sept-Oct/09.

Have Fun

“Planning a Caribbean escape this winter? ‘Touring a tropical paradise affords one the opportunity to eat poisoned food, swim in contaminated waters, and sustain serious injury from marine life.’ That’s the jaundiced view of the brand-new Infections of Leisure, the only textbook dedicated to spoiling your free time. It details how eating mussels can cause two-year bouts of amnesia and how playing sports helps spread ringworm. And who knew that pet hedgehogs, turtles, and iguanas are just crawling with salmonella? The new fourth edition adds chapters on ‘Perils of the Petting Zoo’ and ‘Infections on Cruise Ships’ to its earlier warning of the dangers of camping, going to the beach, gardening, or simply being at high altitudes.” From Science, Sept 11/09.

Lazy Housewife

“Lazy Housewife bean, one of the oldest documented beans, produces slender green pods that are delicious as snap beans and can also be dried for a soup bean bar none. Its name celebrates the first beans that did not need stringing!” From Seeds of Diversity, Spr-Sum/09.

Heart to Heart

“If you happen to be waiting for a new organ, consider that 40,000 corneas, 16,000 kidneys and 6,500 livers change hands every year. And, remarkably, about 40 people have received new hearts from living donors: someone with bad lungs but a healthy heart can get both from a cadaver – less risky than transplanting lungs alone – then pass their own heart along.” From New Scientist, Aug 15/09.

Parts List

“With the human genome sequenced, scientists have begun the vastly more complicated process of determining what the three billion bases that make up our genes do, how and when they are turned on and off, and how the proteins they design collaborate to carry out various functions. That is the real challenge, for the sequenced human genome merely represents a list of parts. As geneticist Eric Lander has said: ‘We’ve called the human genome the blueprint, the Holy Grail, all sorts of things. It’s a parts list. If I gave you the parts list for a Boeing 777 and it has one hundred thousand parts, I don’t think you could screw it together, and you certainly wouldn’t understand why it flew.’” From The Big Picture, by David Suzuki and Dave Robert Taylor, Greystone Books (2009).

Happy 25th

In wishing a happy birthday to Seeds of Diversity, a Canadian seed saving and sharing organization, which he founded, Ken McMullen says, “The great threat to biodiversity today is rapid climate change. Plant life will need to adapt at a faster rate than ever before. Rapid plant adaptation is your strength. Brandywine tomato was isolated to a small valley near the Atlantic coast in Pennsylvania until 25 years ago. Now you have it growing in every corner and climate of this country. That is rapid plant adaptation. It is also food security through redundancy. As climate change accelerates, your network of growers and their gene pool will become more and more vital to our national interests.” From Seeds of Diversity, Spr-Sum/09.


“aoccdrnig to rsceearh at cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.” From a review by Andrew Robinson of Writing, by Barry B. Powell, Wiley-Black (2009), in Science, Apr 3/09.

Clever Plants

“‘A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible’ goes the Welsh proverb that lends this fascinating book its title. Focusing on seeds, ecologist Jonathan Silvertown has written a witty and charming introduction to the evolutionary wiles of the plant kingdom. Who knew, for instance, that we enjoy beer thanks to yeast’s devious scheme to poison fermenting barley seeds with alcohol, denying their nutrients to other microorganisms?

“Cooking and eating become evolutionary subversions, too, in Silvertown’s entertaining company, as humans exploit the extraordinary biochemical ingenuity of plants, and vice versa. If the apple is the tree’s way of getting us to spread its seeds, we have our passion for ripe fruits to thank for the evolution of our three-colour vision, which allows us to see red berries hidden in a sea of green. Do read this eye-opening book.” From a review by Gail Vines of An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds, by Jonathan Silvertown, University of Chicago Press, in New Scientist, July 18/09.

Final Thought

“If you look at the science about what is happening on Earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this Earth … and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” Paul Hawken, quoted in Home Power, Aug-Sept/09.

About the Author More by Douglas G. Pearce

Douglas G. Pearce is a retired scientist who lives in Mono, you can read more miscellany in other issues of Countryside Digest.

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